Since I live on the "garden" level (aka the sub-bunker level), I get an ankle's eye view of everyone coming and going, and some opportunity to extrapolate livelihoods and narrative arcs from feeble scraps like shoe-brands and grocery bag labels and the timbre of solemn or ecstatic voices. A short, round bus driver lives three floors above; he parks his neat, sensible little Corolla expertly every evening and minces his steps into the building. Pale, fashionable women sail past my windows, glowing in second-hand glamor and studded belts, crashing through the doors laughing, always. Gray young men in their fading jeans run past with their dogs and their watch caps, urgently smoking cigarettes and barely making rent. Babies sing through the ventilation well windows, echoing in the bathrooms and kitchens. I witness their entrances and exits, their remarkabilities and their quotidian dross, with all the intimate detachment of yet another silent built-in fixture in this aging structure, no more intrusive than the bookcase or the doorknob. My windows are angled such that when the blinds are half-opened, I am invisible. I see how eloquent the angles of hips and the fluid weaves of arms and legs can be, from one body to another. The body language of those who believe only they can read each other.
This morning I noticed new graffiti on the exterior wall of my apartment, roughly corresponding to the area above where my head lies on my bed. The marks are densely tangled and sharp, like a nest of thorns. As I read reports of the calamities in South Asia, I think of these tangled and sharp lives all around me, and the unthinkable numbers become only just marginally more conceivable. This is a small thing, but important, for me. Poignant anecdotes, individual stories of survival and loss seem exceedingly impertinent in the face of these "myriad of myriads", as Gibbon would describe it. But I also feel that I must fight against the urge to simplify things into the abstraction of anonymously vast numbers; this is the paradox, that enormity can only be dealt with in its totality.
Perhaps the tendency, in our culture, to simplify and generalize, is what lies at the heart of the UN relief coordinator Jan Egeland's remarks about the "stinginess" of the more developed countries in their relief efforts. The stinginess of our aid reflects the myopia of our vision; we cannot widen the scope of our assistance because we cannot wrap our minds around what has happened. I remember how it used to be said that my country would have to suffer some comparable degree of trauma to what the rest of the world has experienced, at one time or another, during this last calamitous century, before a people like us could begin to understand the problems of what goes on in less fortunate countries; but unfortunately, even after experiencing some extraordinarily traumatic times, our myopic ignorance persists, perhaps willfully so.
The most I can imagine is the swirl of people living above and around me, swept in a sharply tangled mess of thorns and ocean currents. I can only barely visualize the floating shoals of grocery bags and orphaned shoes and the awfully silent voices. These slender limits of our words and our hearts are like vulnerable islands in the vastness of the sea.
But now I'm just angry about this Guardian Article I just read, and once again I'm feeling singularly disenchanted with my country right now. Just in time for the holiday. Fucking self-righteous bigoted ignorant dumbshit Republican ass-hats.
No doubt things will look better in the morning. Incidentally, if anyone in the world right now has some extra whup-ass lying around, could you send it our way? We could really use it. Thanks.
feathers rustling softly
in the radiant celestial heat
their distant calls
for a moment
that the sea is there, too,
a gentle tumult
just outside my window.
In my dreams
the tides are stirring
the waxing moon,
and the birds
and the waters
lap and ebb
around the lamppost of the moon
Some of the Library's books I'm reading (I'll update the Amazon links to your left later):
- East, by Edith Pattou
- The Land Where the Blues Began, by Alan Lomax
- Safe Area: Gorazde, by Joe Sacco
- Red Oleanders, by Rabindranath Tagore
- Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks
- In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin
- Elephas Maximas--A Portrait of the Indian Elephant, by Stephen Alter
Once again the sunlight is brilliant right now, here in Portland. I've been busy as usual these past several days, after having returned from the high-level holiday summit conference with the great powers in my mother's side of the family, In Canada. Slipping back into the Library's On-Call System (where the workshifts are, unfortunately, few and far between). But this is Okay, ultimately, because I'm also delivering, of all things, Honey-Baked Hams on behalf of my father (who, in addition to running his own mortgage company, probably launders money or smuggles coke to pay for the beach house he just built--and the coke theory would explain the unnaturally addictive properties of these Hams I'm delivering--I have no idea what kind of connection he has with the Ham people except that every year he gets 20 hams, (hush-money? The take from the bookies? Pork farmers paying for protection?), and the tradition is that I go around the city dropping off these 10 lb. hams at relatives' and "clients'" doorsteps.
[Picture shady, gloomy suburban ranch-style houses, ill-kept lawns, neighbors who walk quickly past the address in question. My beat-up Saturn pulls up to the curb and shades are quickly drawn, cigarettes stubbed out, children bundled away to the backroom and sternly hushed. Boots crunching on gravel. Doorbell rings, breaking the cold suburban silence. Long moment passes, and then the stranger drops a battered, stained cardboard Honeybaked Ham box onto the fading doormat, "Happy Holidays" scrawled hurriedly on the note. Boots crunching quickly back, and then the Saturn squeals away.]
Which probably means that if the Feds have some sort of sting or surveillance operation on my Dad, they'll probably nail me as accessory to wire fraud or tax evasion or something, and the only thing preventing me from turning states' evidence is the fact that the Susi family is EVERYWHERE, and we have long memories, and besides, Dad pays for stuff all the time so really the Feds can go stuff themselves because I Ain't No Rat.)
So. Yeah, I love working at the Library.
So my family. Families. They're sprawling. The one is like a Faulkner-meets-Proust-meets-Allende novel, the other is Marquez-meets-Steinbeck-meets-Dickens. Kind of. Mom's side (Faulkner, Proust, Allende) is in ruins, haunted by lost dreams, burnt-out properties and disastrous strokes, heart attacks, car accidents. (I'm generalizing quite.) Dad's side (Marquez, Steinbeck, Dickens), is teeming with babies and promising prospects, but we just lost Grandpa to cancer (who is--ach, was--a patriarch of biblical and falstaffian proportions...), and I was there taking care of him (as the EMT in the family), and I closed his eyes as his pulse slipped away under my fingers.
Obviously, there is a great deal of backstory that the patient Polyform Reader will no doubt learn all in good time.
But suffice to say that this evening, here in Canada, Something Important is Happening. Major shifts are taking place, and the Jimenez sisters (my Aunts and my Mom) are setting out to finalize arrangements about the abandoned properties back in the Phillipines. But it's going to cost a lot of money, and my Mom has expressed her strong opposition, due in no small part to her significant emotional and medical limitations (Mom--I LOVE MY MOM, but Lord it's been hard...), and no one really knows how to do these things right, because the Phillipines is way the hell over there and everyone is back out on this side of the Pacific and there's no one left to take care of things and deal with corrupt officials and predatory squatters, not to mention the debts owed to family and friends who were left behind when all the aunts and uncles just started dying, one by one and then all at once... I look at photos and now there are all these ghosts wearing linen suits and floral dresses, mahogany tones, sweltering heat...
Meanwhile, in my other family, my widowed Grandma is fixing to make her Farewell Tour '05, and I have the honor of escorting her home in this coming February/March for three weeks.
It took some time for me to realize this, but it is the perfect opportunity to help sort out the Jimenez lands, while proudly and honorably serving as my father's son and my father's father's son--as a Susi.
So now this evening, after much heartache and storming and laughter and heavy Filipino food, it now appears that I will be going to the Phillipines as both my father's son and my mother's son, that I will be serving both sets of grandparents at the same time. Understand that this is an extraordinary development; like other children of sundered houses, it has always been something of a shell game, it has always been a matter of which identity I'm wearing, and never a matter of somehow artfully and dynamically and effectively and honorably being BOTH at once. I'm excited, I'm scared, I'm ready. Let's get it on.
From the looks of things, 2005 is going to be a very interesting year.
Goats and Monkeys!!! (Cue freakout music.)
so many souls
on standby, fingering their creased tickets,
remembering what their bags looked like.
you will see
an open hand
holding so much more
when it's empty
trees and clouds obscuring the moon tonight
but it's still there,
in fact I am being obscured from the moon
and perhaps that is why
you can't see me anymore.
It's comforting to know all the shortcuts, where to get the best cup of coffee, which bookstore will carry what, where all your mail goes (even though none of you ass-hats ever write back to me, but that's okay, it just means that I am a Citizen of the World in the Republic of Letters, whereas you are just another troglodyte masquerading as a semi-evolved primate).
It's great to be back on my bike again, sailing down the side streets and saying hello to all the old neighborhood cats, who look at me with that quizzical expression cats have when they want to hide the fact that they've missed you, because they're cats after all, and they have their reputations to consider.
So here's my Holiday Project (as if I didn't have enough projects to contend with). If YOU want a mix cd of non-traditional, vaguely but not really Holiday themed music, here's what you got to do.
- Purify yourself. Push fluids, eat a clove of garlic every day, wash behind the ears.
- Spend three days and three nights fasting, wearing a hair shirt and mixing tanqueray with wine.
- Abstain from the conspicuous consumption of pork rinds.
- Lend someone a book you really love.
- Send your contact info to email@example.com.
That's it. Yes, that's all. Why am I doing this?
Well, you see, I'm also working on an as-yet-to-be-determined theatre project (one man show? full-on play? multi-media event? Hell if I know), in which blues music and black american worksongs will figure prominently. And many of these tracks are so damn good I want other people to know about them. Some of them happen to be spiritual in content; some pretty screwy (in every sense of the term). But most importantly, I want to know what other people think of these songs. And I may include one or two non-project-related tracks, just as a little something extra.
Also, I'm a philatelic junkie. A post office addict. Sending stuff in the mail makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Or as the doctors say, "Whatever it takes to keep him off the sauce."
Now, because I ain't charging you one red cent, I get to take all the time I want in the world to send these things. In return, all I ask is that you e-mail what you think of these songs. Now of course, the mighty power that is paulmonster reserves the right to decline sending to people, presumably because you smell funny or you're a Klansman or something like that. But irregardless, you will get more info about this project by inquiring to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ah, globalisation. That so foul and fair a fiend could just make possible the cheap, widespread distribution of a near-random sampling of obscure blues and folk songs in the middle of a globally warmed winter.
happy humbugs, everyone.
A. Well, my young friend, I'll tell you. So I was out in Vermont, thinking about Life and Women and Alcohol, and I realized that there's more to this whole Monster enterprise than just play-acting. Why, golly, if I had a dime for all the things that this Monster ought to be doing, I'd, well, I would be spending my winters in Costa Rica, sunning myself in layers of baby oil, watching endangered baby tortoises amble along in the pristine sand. But instead, here I am, busting my butt to make rent and do worthwhile Theatre Art.
So I said to myself, I said, "Paulmonster, if there's anyone who can bust you out of this two-bit half-baked under-educated boondoggle you've got going on here, that anyone must be You. Or, me. That is, it's Me I'm talking about, not you.
Q. Right. I was a little confused there.
Q. 'S okay.
A. So I said to myself, I said, "Paulmonster, I know you should be, like, going to college or something, but here you are with your variegated and multifaceted world-view and a rich little pot of diverse skills and experiences. Surely there's something you could do with all that."
Q. And that's when you started writing--
A. Now, not so fast son, it's not that simple. Even though I haven't gone to college, I still had to figure some shit out, see the world, get myself some book-learning. You're interviewing a certified Wildland Firefighter and Class C Sawyer, here, you know.
A. And a trained EMT-Basic in the State of Oregon.
Q. You must get all the chicks then.
A. You would think.
Q. And all this on top of the Theatre...?
A. Oh yes. Trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. About 20 productions in the last four years, all together.
Q. By the way, you were great in "The Drawer Boy" at Vermont Stage Company. Those shorts!
A. [flushing] yeah, I know, thanks, that was pretty tough...
Q. And when you came out all bloody with the straw in your hair, I LAUGHED...
A. Uh, right.
Q. And in "Blue" back in Poland, how did you manage that amazingly real-looking nosebleed during the Bear-death sequence?
A. Well, you see I couldn't actually see--
Q. Right! I was wondering, since that mask was on the top of your head and you had to stare at the ground while wrestling that one guy and then when you kept tripping on your bear-coat--
Q. Man that must have been something, I'd never seen so much blood before, and it looked so real--
A. So I started writing poems--
Q. --oh, right, yeah--
A. --so I started writing poems because I hadn't written any in a long while and when I started this blog it was because I missed the fiery creative crucible of writing and in the process of writing letters (which I do all the time) I realized that there are certain things that the poetic voice can say which the letter voice, and sometimes even the blog voice, can't say, at least not properly.
But really I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I just want to get good at it, whatever it is. So that's why.
In my absence, I commend you to the good folks at the Sherlock Holmes Society , featuring such recorded radio treasures as Sir John Gielgud's Sherlock Holmes, with Sir Ralph Richardson's Dr. Watson, pitted against none other than Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty. (The title of that particular episode is "The Final Problem"--look under the Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson link)
Knock yourselves out. Don't stay up too late. Remember to live like monarchs among mortals, and keep the stove stoked with firewood while I'm gone.
my best to all things Vermont,
All of us meeting like gods on a mountaintop,
thundering laughter echoing in the night
hands sticky with jam,
eyes reddened by the hour and the wine
lines on her face counting these evenings these years
these endless appetites these many many bright ones
the clever map on the wall, the sweet chianti,
the baby pictures, the sleeping widow upstairs,
the fireworks on the rooftop, the glow of paradise around the corner,
the pout in the lips mother shares with her sons,
That hard indomitable core underneath all the singing,
That pride in her skin, that hunger for us all,
I could well believe she had taken
a scandalously younger mate
The very bread was soaked in honey and butter there.
I would give anything to sleep
under those stars again.
old jade pales
slip away from me quickly,
embrace this distance
this is mine to cultivate,
this plot of wet turf
planted with trembling notes
It was your expressive silences
that captivated me, the crash
of emptiness that deafens suddenly
that way you have of deliciously nervously sensual stillness
a finger arching
the curve that lengthens
in the dark, for you
(how long have we known one another?)
and I thrill
to this supple music of absence
I have enriched you
with the imagining of lovers and livelihoods
I have amplified
the volume of your empty voice
You have been taken from me,
you have been taken from me
And I am enraptured
by your too-distant music
I love you.
Do some manly firewood-stacking out in the cold. Build a wall of dressed firewood, noting the consistency of the sawyer's work. Clean the dishes. Stoke the stove. Drink in the clear North Country air. Sort your mail. Note the alarming number of letters you have yet to write. Remember to pick up more stamps soon.
Start thinking about packing to go home in a few days. Try not to think about missing the firewood and the cold and the insomniac luxury.
Read your script. Yes, read it again. No, you haven't read it enough times already. You never remember that one bit with the thing and the other guy who does that one thing when that other bit happens. Maybe you should think about getting that right for once?
Go off onto the rural roads again. "Trees like spiders", you said. Rock out with the radio as you psych yourself up for the evening's performance. Taste the cold in your fingers, in your bones. Don't ever forget the taste of this place.
Grab dinner at the deli. Keep drinking lots of water. Keep looking for more poems to write.
Savor this play. Be thankful that it still tingles, always does, in all the right places. That's what makes it all worthwhile; drink in the expressions on the audience' faces at the curtain. Don't ever forget the taste of that.
Write more letters after the show. Pick up ice cream and spelt bread for your hosts. And a hot cup of coffee for the ride home, and the sleepless night to look forward to.
when you look at them right,
logs in the fire poke out from the embers
like crocodile snouts, drawn in glowing coal
dark and quiet,
Squirrel stokes the fire
puffy cheeks whistling on the embers
* * *
fire leaps up
and starts counting.
one for the long drive home
two for the endless lanes
three for the mis-leading stars
four for the trees on the ridge
for the reddened faces
for the unfolded clothes
for the falling snow
the owl on the telephone pole
the running water
the busted mailboxes
fire leaping now
Squirrel running up home, up in the covered bridge
counting counting counting counting counting
lost his numbers counting so much
ice on the road
trees like spiders
fire running like water, like stopwatch clicking
Squirrel dancing in the firelight, puffy cheeks whistling
fire spilling, like that dawn spilling over the hills
fire glowing, bright day coming
firelight counts what daylight will see
see old horseshoes nailed to the walls
see cobblestones round and full on the ground
see H smiling in her sleep
see bread baking in the new oven
cloud scudding on the lake surface
mist from my mouth wet in the crisp air
hardwood trunk with the rotten lock
books on the table thick with letters
boots on the doormat, laceless, tongueless
stove clicking with heat, brimming
mirror fresh-painted, silver-lined
old newspapers scattering in the fire
crumpling lost days
old noses flaring at the scent of maple smoke
tasting the pre-dawn air
* * *
Squirrel’s glassy eye bright with counting
fire dull and spent, losing heat
all these things bloom like flowers
in the new day billowing over the hill,
fire’s snouts snoring softly
and Squirrel’s puffy cheeks blow the smoke away.
We will live together in this strange place,
You with your strange thick glasses
(Your eyes are soupy with fingerprints and dust)
The wail of sirens outside the window
The imprint of shattered things
playing on the phone machine
We will peel
layers and layers
of flaking comfort
from these enclosing walls
We will cease to be each other.
waterstains and rust
our curious selves
You will lose your chalky pallor
I will forget my reservations
We will cease to be each other.
Our voices will lap against the confines of this place
like echoes of swimmers in the dark
We will forget the license plates
Our memories will fray and unravel
The pillowcases will yellow with the oil
of our becoming
Then you will remember your bronchial cough
we will speak in measured tones again
light from the street will cast a morbid pall on events
The walls will collapse
I can find my own way out
I will call from time to time
I will start to remember
I will lose the key
You will dine on dust and soil
You will see things in a different light
You will record another message
and we will cease to be each other
Whitman Poem #1. "Crushed"
I have accepted my longing for you.
It’s comforting to me,
To live with a fading memory of
I might interpret
as a beckoning smile of yours,
the merest shred
of an exchange
that only barely qualifies as a conversation,
words like pennies in the dirt, that’s all.
This is enough
for me to paint your lips
across the canvas of the best hotel sex ever
imagined as a memory relived
in the crush of a pink cadillac’s
crushed velvet seats
Those pennies in the dirt
are the seeds of a garden so lush
that I don’t have to know its fragrance
to remember it
It comforts me
so much that it aches.
It was the second show in a matinee-plus-evening performance lineup. Bob and David consumed their oranges during the matinee's intermission, as is their habit.
(Publicly, I don't cotton to their supersitious habit of consuming citrus fruits during intermission. What, are we fending off scurvy or something? Did Mommy forget to pack us our peanut butter and jelly sam'iches? But privately, I'm starting to come around to the idea. I already quaff copious quantities of flavored mineral water and what-not, and I still find myself pretty damn thirsty in Act II. And my own custom of wolfing down chocolate chip cookies during intermission, for some inexplicable reason, isn't catching on with these two, nor is it doing anything for my thirst. And these two pogues are always twice as quick as I am when it comes to getting dressed after the show and stuff. Now, I say that's because I have oh maybe seventy-nine thousand costume changes compared to their cumulative six. I may be exaggerating there a little bit, but still... it's making me look bad. The director already thinks I'm some kind of somnolent manatee who smells funny. At this point, whatever I can do to improve my image around here, the better, and if that means I have to take up some cockamamie orange-eating custom endemic to these parts, then so be it.)
Bob and David, the quivering pansies that they are, go all teary-eyed and trembling at the thought of having to do a full-throated show with a full, uproarious house and all with no oranges for their intermission snackies. "The dried-out sod leeches the moisture from our supple throats" they whine. I exchange an indulgent glance with Freda, our Stage Manager whose honeyed commands I've seen many a mortal obey with the desperation of doomed desire.
Fortunately for Bob and David, Freda's gallant devotion to her duty wins my castmates their coveted oranges, which she picks up from the next door Deli (home of the finest roast beef melt subs this side of eternity, incidentally). "Ah, thanks, now we can go back to arranging our things so precisely that we can slip effortlessly out of our costumes and into our streetclothes, like so many corn snakes freshly awoken from their winter hibernation, and quickly shedding their rimy, worn-out skins."
I shrug and steal some orange slices. And the show goes on.
Since when last I posted, our cast had to replace an actor at the high-water mark of Tech. Injuries sustained in the line of duty forced us to call up Dave (aka the Uber-Theatre-Marine from Valhalla) (He plays Spider Man at Marvel Comics events, I kid you not, this guy really IS a superhero) with about 48 hours to learn the show before Opening.
It helps that he'd already played the role in question about a year-and-a-half ago. But still, with the twin monster storytelling sequences and the notorious clusterf*cks involving all three of us, it's a feat to be remembered. All I can do is watch in awe and scramble to keep up.
We played tonight before a preview audience, and Lord, let me tell you, it's a whole different piece of work. There are all these humans, now, everywhere around us, and all this energy gets washed over the stage and back again in strange new rhythms that I hardly know how to manage. It's like I'm learning the show all over again (which, in fact, is what we're doing). It takes a few moments, before you get over that instinctive aversion to presumptuous strangers who have the nerve to just walk in there and watch you progressively humiliate yourself.
At this point, we're feeling pretty happy with ourselves that the audience enjoyed the play as much as they did, and we didn't break to call for line--not even David the New Guy/Superhero. We're told that traditionally, the Preview audiences tend to be terse and non-forthcoming (the symptoms of emotional constipation are positively deadly to encounter when you're trying to do your bloody onstage job). But this audience was almost distractingly effusive in their displays.
On the flipside, Bob and I are both messing up things we really shouldn't be messing up anymore. Heavens, I even cracked up on a couple of ocassions in Act II. (I'd really really like to know how to keep a straight face during the "Muck out the cow stalls with this salad fork" speech.)
So tommorrow's Opening. The wider Burlington public is going to see me pottering about in these really really short, tight cutoff jeans and the like. (I'm a little bit disappointed that the Michael Caine hornrims didn't make it in the show, but that's okay.) (I'm actually not at all disappointed that my father isn't going to come out and see this, because it's really uncanny how I'm starting to resemble my childhood memories of him. Jesus, did they really make shirt-collar lapels THAT wide? And my hair hasn't been this thick since before I got that passport photo taken, that the Germans love so much.)
One more thing, a note for future reference; if you ever make yourself a pair of really really short tight cutoff jeans, be sure to be prepared for the shock of cold seat surfaces whenever you sit down. Let's just say that it's really discomfiting for the unsuspecting.
ON THIS WHOLE ACTING THING.
Like a cat carefully choosing a place to hunker down for the night, I'm slowly coming around to the idea of professionally pursuing theatre as an avocation, as a life. Watching rockstars like David and Mark and Kathy at work, as well as the accrued experience of others back west like Randall and Jen, leads me closer and closer to the conclusion that I so enjoy and respect, and am reasonably capable of this work, that it would be wise to pursue my avocation for it in a more formal and deliberate manner. (Believe what you will, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with these discomfiting cutoff jeans that Jenny has dressed me in. Really.)
More on this later. In the meantime, I have a pint of well-earned Ben & Jerry's chocolate ice cream to attend to.
They've built a circa-1972 Canadian farmhouse kitchen and backyard, in an intimate 150-seat black box theatre in downtown Burlington, VT. I helped lay down authentic Canadian linoleum on the 16\16 ft. stage, and tracts of sod on the outside corner. There's a vintage Kelvinator fridge that weighs heavier than a guilty conscience. There's a working sink, which, in that intimate space in-the-round, just boggles my pea-sized brain. At this point in rehearsals, we consume a loaf-and-a-half of Wonderbread every night. That's quite a bit.
This Tech experience, I must confide, is Humiliatingly Difficult. The Drawer Boy looks simple and straightforward, but I assure you, reader, that there is much hidden in its deceptively meek ambitions, enough to upend the best intentions of this cast.
I am apalled at my own shortcomings in this. All three of us in this tiny cast are struggling with lines. And at this close to opening, it looks and feels like Amateur Hour on the Chucklehead TV Special.
What gets me is that I know--we all know--that we're better than this. I daresay all three of us are talented, determined, committed actors equal to the task before us. It's a beautifully moving play, with great nuance and hidden depth beneath a seemingly placid exterior (kind of like me, actually). We just keep getting upended by the repetitive, same-but-different interjections, and the sheer number and scale of discoveries we have to sort through onstage (I guess that's kind of like me, too).
I've done hard things. I played the Bear, in a show this summer about a faith healer in Poland beset by demons and stiltwalkers and shaman-totems. I've also played the faith healer with a broken fifth metatarsal. I've done hard things. And I'm not about to give up...
Ach. So that's what this self-absorbed insecure actor is struggling with. But on the bright side, our costume designer is kickass. She's thinking of dressing my character in a lime-green button-down shirt, a pair of slim black corduroids, and thick Michael Caine-vintage hornrimmed glasses. "It's so difficult to keep you from looking hip," she says. I know, Jenny, I know.
I will not belabor you, dear reader, with the fitful reflections of an angry and determined young turk who took notes for a roomful of similarly angry and determined subersive patriots. At least, not yet. Pursuant to the consensus gradually agreed upon in this meeting, I invite you to familiarize yourselves with your state's Congressional delegations, House and Senate both.
It's easy. Just plug in your zip code and find out who speaks for you. That's all. For those who may be beyond this troubled land's star-spangled bounds, I invite you to visit the State Department and find out who speaks for me in your country. Just for the sake of knowing. Ensuing activities include:
- Heartily congratulating yourself on Being a Good Informed Citizen.
- Taking a Look at Their Respective Legislative Records
- Writing A Letter to Your Representative and/or Senator and/or My Ambassador to You, talking about what you want and why.
- Citing said information in cocktail parties, dinner dates or cranky breakfast tables, thereby silencing the rest of the room upon evidence of your incomparable erudition.
- Keeping Up With Their Legislative Records, because after all, they're doing things in your name. (You foreign types get it easy, I know.)
It's not much. But it's a beginning. For further troublemaking, check out Move On's website. Y'all can go from there pretty easily.
I am personally perhaps not as angry (nor as despondent) as the others about what many perceive to be another electoral fraud. At this stage, I feel the more immediate priorities are the worsening state of affairs in US foreign policy, the increasing threat to civil liberties and women's rights, the ongoing purge of informed moderate and opposition voices in the most important levels of the federal government, and the ongoing threat to the environment.
A politicial blog, this is not. But I do view it as an important responsibility of every conscientious individual to keep well-informed and as active as we can be in our respective spheres.
This requires conscious effort, and a sufficiently sober, even stoic, temperament, which helps me to view the various outrages and injustices at home and abroad and still keep faith that I can and will make a better life for myself, and that this involves working to make a better world for those around me, ultimately the whole world over. And this begins with actions that may be small in the world's perspective, but come in all sizes in my own.
Yours in Solidarity,
I'm living in a beautiful old half-sided farmhouse out in the Vermont woods, about 45 minutes from the nearest Interstate.
During the day big shaggy cows graze just around the corner. They look like prehistoric wooly mammoth cows, only small. Personally, I think they would be more fun if they were bigger. But then, what wouldn't be?
One of the neighbors has a schoolbus painted blue, and rigged to run on vegetable oil.
Article 17 of the Vermont Constitution specifies that they'll never submit to martial law.
The rough-hewn wood frame of the house gains a warm, welcoming tone from the sunlight, a quality which it shares with the worn patina of the antique floorboards.
Someone left a Johnny Cash tape in the beat-up Honda Civic I'm driving, and Lord let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've coasted through farmlands and Smalltown crossroads and shoals of nice young unassuming Vermonters with The Man in Black thundering from your crackling speakers.
In rehearsals, we're at That Agonizing Place where everyone's at different stages of being off-book and having well-established characters and knowing how not to project the stage presence of a large, awkward, poorly-groomed amnesiac manatee when Not Talking But Still Acting. In other words, it's the night before Tech Week begins. In the Star Trek episode, it's when Worf growls, "Perhaps today IS a good day to die!!"
Driving home from rehearsals, I have long conversations with my director Mark, about the trials and tribulations of running a small but plucky regional theatre, and having high standards that tend to rarify over time, and the utter crap-shoot any casting operation is. He's mulling over several options about the next season, and the thing is, it doesn't matter whether you're got a professional Equity Actor or Jane Q. Undergrad or Chuckles McSelfish or Old Gingerbread from the Salvation Army shelter, you just never know what you're dealing with until after you've cast everything. And even when you have the most magically talented uber-superhero-justice-league-strength cast, that still doesn't mean you've got a good script, or a smart publicity operation, or a public that isn't hopelessly lethergic and none-too-quick on the uptake, neither. When we get home, Kathy reminds us, "Who never said 'We're screwed'? That's right. Capt. Kirk never said 'We're screwed.'"
Meanwhile, my friend Erika studying in Chile writes to me, commenting on the absolute absence of any cultural infrastructure whatsoever, oustide of Santiago. And I remember how grateful I am to be doing work that, while it certainly isn't solving Peace in the Middle East, it's still work that I love to do and needs to be done.
But in the interests of that latter loose end, here's your homework, everybody: as a Citizen of the World, it behooves you to familiarize yourself with one of the causes behind that mess over there. No, not the mess in Iraq, although that's related. Please read the link, it's short and it's very telling in the context of why things are the way they are right now. Context, context, context is everything.
It's an intensely satisfying challenge. For once I'm working in an environment where my primary effort and energy goes to my work for this role, which is as it should be. And I'm enjoying my immersion in yet another foreign environment.
Vermont is lovely, but cold. Quite cold. The roads are long and narrow, I'm living on the far side of a covered bridge, I'm drinking from a traveling coffee mug with the silhouette of a moose on its side. I'm living in a warm room next to a woodstove that I stoke daily. I have a map of colonial British East Africa on my wall. The stars are piercing in their clarity, and from time to time the Northern Lights sweep past. There's a two-story Barnes and Noble open until 11:00 at night, with a Starbucks inside, about 45 minutes north of here. Not ideal, but certainly adequate. The town of Burlington itself is crammed with remarkable restaurants and New England cheer.
I'm working with castmates dramatically different from those with whom I've recently been working, though we all recognizably hail from the same eclectic and desperate tribe, that of the Theatre Artist. One is an Actor's-Equity-lion/former university professor type, self-described as the last white man to play Othello, in 1963. The other is a mysterious gentleman from Montpelier possessed of an uncanny ability to learn complicated lines and blocking quite quickly. We don't like him very much right now.
This is the place in the process where things quicken, by the way. We're far enough along in the process where there's no turning back. It's the point in the Star Trek episode where Kirk is on the line to Scotty, looking for more power.
I'm confident of things unfolding beautifully, but I'm tense enough to be nervous. In a healthy way, as these things go. No doubt the general tenor will only intensify as Tech Week hits.
It's easy for me, out here in this remote theatre world I'm living in right now, to feel almost as exiled as I did in Poland. From time to time I pick up a newspaper and groan for a few long moments. To which I say to myself: Be strong, hold fast, quick's the word and sharp's the action. There is much afoot abroad which requires the best and the noblest in all of us to rise above our indignant outrage. We all have cause to use our time and our energy carefully, and forcefully, to repair the damage being done and to keep our own proud liberal bleeding-heart dreams alive. It's important to remember that apoplectic disgust or smoldering contempt really serves us little.
Right. Enough preaching. Peace and Health to all of you.
Favorite passage from "The Drawer Boy":
MORGAN: Ever gutted anything?
MILES: You mean--what--like, cut the guts out of something?
MORGAN: Uh huh. Do you know how to use a chainsaw?
MILES: I, uhh. (remembers tractor) No. No sir, I don't.
MORGAN: Nothing to it. Just put on the welder's mask and the raincoat, and hold on tight when things get slippery.
MILES: Think it's a good idea? After the tractor?
MORGAN: Probably not. But there'll be no mollycoddling on this farm while there's work to do. Plus, I'll stand well back."
Visit my friend Sally's weblog, www.e-h.us/blog She's cool, she's intelligent, she gardens, and she's set forth a well-considered response to one of my own posts below.
Also, my dear friend Gwenn's site, www.gwennseemel.com She's amazingly talented and prolific and keenly perceptive and amazing wonderful. I adore her with the zeal of a mortal foe.
And the Survival Guide to Homelessness at www.guide2homelessness.blogspot.com is a truly remarkable blog, setting forth a perspective that is desperately needed in the poverty discourse right now.
Finally, one of my hosts here in Vermont, Kathy, runs www.theaccidentalactivist.com Go now. Go, go quickly, don't make me come after you, fool, go!
All of these sites will be linked immediately to your left on this screen henceforth. This doesn't relieve you of responsibility for checking in with any of those other sites of Profound Importance, so don't think you're off the hook, bucko.
And last but not least, any of you so-and-so's who's up here in New England, come by Burlington and check out "The Drawer Boy" at Vermont Stage Company's Flynnspace. (www.vtstage.org) Ignore these directives at your own peril. A more typical crazy-ass post to follow soon.
This time they are dense, choked rocks in the middle of a wide, slow, muddy river. The rocks are crammed with stringy, spidery trees like mangroves crossed with willows crossed with tangled braintree oaks. The leaves are rubbery, with sharp edges.
The wide river is shallow, and the muck from the bottom is gray, and it stains my toes and my feet and my legs, up to my thighs. I go from rock to rock, out of idle curiosity. The sun is far, far away, throwing off a cold, bright daylight. Nothing is reflected from the river water's surface. I think of disappointments and stale coffee and spiteful words. I look to the banks of the river and I see tall grass and lonely trees with drifting tops, and the sound of dry leaves in the wind.
For some reason, I walk low in the water, so that only my eyes and the top of my head break the slow river's surface. I'm not afraid of sharp rocks or a strong current or living things in the water. I'm walking in a slow crouch, my arms in front of me. I watch the clay-gray water running off the hair on my forearms. I think of lost chances and broken promises.
I'm wearing a raw cotton shirt, torn and stained with old blood in places. I can tell my nose has been bleeding, but it isn't now. Small lizards scamper onto my arms every time I touch one of the rocks. I can smell cooking rice.
The water tastes like thin oatmeal. I'm thinking of dead grandparents, when I notice how cold the river is. I turn and walk back towards one of the rocks, but I notice how far away they now are. And that I can only dimly see the banks of this river.
But the day is early, and I'm certain it will warm soon. And so I turn again, and walk with my eyes closed.
My toes are now only barely touching the bottom. My arms are spread out, and I'm leaning back into the river's soft current, letting it carry me gently. I feel the clay stains stiffening on the skin of my arms above the surface of the water, and I think of parched earth in empty yards, and children with scabbed knees. Water is lapping against my shoulders. My shirt is blooming in the muddy water. I think of swimming in the dark, and I wake up.
I don't know what to do, or who to speak to, or what to say, in that overwhelming, bloody map of electoral votes.
I don't understand the vast gulf separating me from 51% of the voting public. I simply don't understand.
Whose country is this? What country is this? Who are my countrymen and -women, whose ideological and religious views are so foreign to my own?
"The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."
The sunlight on turning leaves, chased with rainfall, is quite striking right now here in Portland. On some streets, whole lines of deciduous trees are all exploding with richly vivid colors, layering the dark streets with fallen things. Thankfully, I retrieved my coat from the cleaners yesterday, in time for this Vermont Expedition coming up.
There was, understandably, a great deal of baggage to work through with my Hand2Mouth Theatre colleagues, who do feel that a certain amount of trust has been broken by my leaving for this approaching month-and-a-half. I can certainly see and acknowledge their position, as I would probably be of the same mind myself were circumstances exchanged. And I do regret going back on my word to them, as such.
But by the same token I feel that there is no clean "correct" course of action here. To have refused the VSC offer would have been greater cause for regret, for me personally. I was offered a part in a script which, upon close scrutiny, I found to be quite strong, with a company whose work I am aware and appreciative of and with people whom I have cause to respect and admire. Here in Portland, comparable conditions prevail, up to this point, with Hand2Mouth Theatre and their work.
The crux lies in that the Vermont Stage Company is the first Theatre to approach me with a fully professional and respectful offer, the composition of which does not rely on me to manifest anything other than my art for them. That is, it's not going to be expected of me to build things or create playbills or hang lights (although of course I'm willing and able to do all of that, cheerfully so, because I am a Theatre Marine [see below]). What clearly matters first and foremost is that I play my own discrete part in this production, for which I will be compensated, in what is for me handsome terms.
This is important because I've never been in this position before, in my brief but tumultuous theatre career. This kind of treatment has heretofore been only theoretical, a pleasant utopian dream that I never really sought, nor ever really expected. Recent theatre experiences have been successively more difficult as my abilities and ambitions have grown, but the commensurate artistic satisfaction I've drawn from these recent experiences has never been consistent. In many ways, I believe the hardscrabble, anti-professional, DIY-ethic prevalent in the theatre circles I orbit, is responsible for this.
For me, it essentially comes down to an issue of respect. I don't feel that more money means greater respect; I feel that a decent compensation is part of a larger package--discrete expectations, specific responsibilities, clarity of design and intention--that together feels more dignified, better managed, and more respectful of me as an independent theatre artist. We're wasting less time and energy making it up together as we go along, because we've got our ducks in a row and we know what we're doing and why.
To be sure, I have great affection and regard for the hardscrabble, anti-professional, DIY-ethic, which, after all, is responsible for several of the most satisfying works it has been my privilege to be a part of thus far. And it's gotten me this far to boot. But I need this piece, this experience of professional work, to complete myself as a self-respecting artist. This, and my regard for the script of "The Drawer Boy", is what impelled me to make the decision I've made.
I take all this time to explicate this decision for you, dear reader, for no real reason other than to clarify my own thoughts in my addled blood-deprived head, and publicizing such things through this weblog is good in that in this manner I can more clearly see who I am and who I am becoming, by using an audience to keep me honest. Hey, I bet that has something to do with why I do theatre in the first place.
So if you're reading this, dear reader, I know it's complicated and wordy but please hear me when I say that I'm not trying to be smug or conceited about anything. There's a great deal to work through with this whole "growing-up" business, and I appreciate your honest patience.
lost in the leaves somewhere in the hills,
So it looks like me and the Big Blue Monster are hitting the road again. In just over two weeks, to be exact.
I know I'll be disappointing colleagues at H2M back here by going east for six weeks. And this certainly made for an agonizing decision for me, in these circumstances. But the offer of a good part in a strong script with some mighty professionals, one of whom I've worked with before, plus respectable treatment--as in a decent wage and plane tickets--all of this made for an offer I can't refuse. If only because, try as I might, for some reason I just can't induce my rent to pay for itself. Go figure.
So if any of you, dear readers, are out in Vermont-way, let me know.
Right now I'm still living in my luggage. I'm living in the crawlspaces between the epic days, the clammy surfaces beneath the flush of sweaty adrenaline.
The Inkwell Communiques went quite fabulously, if chaotically and quite by the skin of one's teeth (see previous posts). I still can't really begin to write what it is about, even after having performed in nearly every incarnation of the Communiques since their conception. It involves fantastical characters that live in letters, while their author bears witness to the personal tragedies of loved ones, in the context of decades of cultural and political calamity. There is the enduring contest of whimsical hope against the dehumanizing, oppressive machinations of stultifiying wickedness. There were acres and acres of silk, and strange hats for the Circus characters, and an orchestra of highly trained, experienced and talented voices, the living work of world-class theatre artists pouring lifetimes of accomplishment into a teeming press of breakneck days.
It is truly and really a privilege to do theatre, both onstage and back-. Everyone should have the opportunity, at some point in our florid, fustive, tumultuous lives, to experience what it is to command and share a stage in a packed theatre space (packed spiritually as well as physically). Especially in the service of a Mentor whose work inspires and motivates you and your work.
But more importantly, to live in one's imagination is the most extraordinary gift theatre can give. The experience of theatre, whether in the audience, on the stage, or behind and above it, is to experience a world filled with worlds; the omnipresent implication of watching imagination made manifest is that we are all always adrift in a sea of imaginations, almost irregardless of our realities. I don't really know how to explain this. I can only dimly draw the picture of what it does to me, and ackowledge how much I owe my Mentor Randall.
While in Berkeley, I had the wonderful privilege to see Berkeley Repertory Theatre's production of Eurydice, richly enacted and wonderfully realized on a stage where water seemed to flow uphill, where an upstage elevator released floods, where the bathhouse tiles lining the walls were also letters from the dead. As the title implies, the play was a telling of the Orpheus myth from Eurydice's focus, and while some of the writing and acting choices I might conceivably quibble with, it is merely the affectionate quibbling of fondness. Eurydice was not a perfect piece of theatre, but it was certainly a moving and lovely piece.
Now back in Portland, I'm writing from a coffeeshop around the corner from my apartment, listening to Dion's rendition of Springsteen's Book of Dreams, and dreaming of those lush images from those several Bay Area stages. Eurydice's father dancing alone in the watery Underworld. In Inkwell, the Silk Sea cathedral-ing over Wolf and the Turtles. Pools of light in dark, empty worlds. Bridges peering over the mist in the Bay. I am quite enthralled in all of this.
as ever, more soon. best,
- Arrive at a desolate black box of a theatre. Remember why you love this sort of thing.
- Rearrange EVERYTHING. From the monster foot-thick flats hewn from solid oak, to the chairs in all the wrong places. The dusty old typewriters that don't really work. Hats, hats everywhere.
- Man the chopsaw and turn out a few batches of brace struts. Try not to nip any fingers again.
- Where the hell did they get so many Lekolites? What kind of theatre has that many Lekos and still somehow suffers from a shortage of Frenelles? Who ate all the safety cables? These are the questions going through your tech brain, as it rapidly becomes apparent that YOU constitute the majority of the light hanging crew. Roll up your sleeves, pull on your gloves, and thank your lucky stars for that handy little Gerber you still haven't lost (www.gerbertools.com).
- Go aloft. Hang a bloody butt-load of lights under the directions of a sad ignorant insecure college student who drives a Passat (she's from Colorado). Spend hours on top of a ladder. All without forgetting any major blocking for tommorrow's performance.
- As she re-plays her Charlotte Church cd AGAIN, you must remember not to kill any Techies. It's horrible for one's karma.
- Rise at the hairline crack of dawn. Take a deep breath. Pull yourself together.
- Chuck the briefcase on the truckbed and get them doggies rolling. You're burning daylight. Don't forget to pick up some chocolate on the way.
- Hit the ground running. Stay hydrated. Look sharp.
- Go aloft within two minutes of arriving onstage. Start re-gelling lights.
- Set up for the re-stage rehearsal. Don't mess up the silk sea again. Rearrange EVERYTHING.
- Now there's an audience milling around. Remember why you love this sort of thing. Triple-check your props. Make sure the Circusians get the right arrangement of silly hats.
- Spend three hours on a hot, packed stage before an overflowing theatre doing kickass if clumsy work. Remember to rearrange EVERYTHING tommorrow.
- Get slightly punch-drunk from exhaustion and lack of sustenance. Be grateful for the strong colleagues you do have, and remember to forget about shrill, insensitive, indecisive college students who don't really have anything to do with this project anyway. This too shall pass.
- Eat well. Congratulate yourself on having escaped yet another grisly death. Remember why you love this sort of thing. Be ready to repeat as necessary when the sun rises again.
There is a smart, pert tilt to the head of the urbane set here. Glory comes packaged with lip gloss and activist literature, at least in the circles I've passed through. The light of the setting sun casts sheets of bronze on the reflective surfaces of the skyscrapers and the arches. Even the grime in the streets show unsuspected depths in this light.
Insert into a mob of over 40 actors, all of them with legendary, elegant reputations, milling about like in a cocktail party only with scripts. "That guy did this movie where I thought he was absolutely brilliant, except I meet him now and I realize he's like that all the time..." "I had no idea SHE was still alive!..." "And the killer is, Terence could not believe he was actually playing the piano. In every production of Master Class they'd ever done, they'd never been able to find an actor who could do that."
Ten hours of rehearsal. Three hour performance. Actors flying in and out of town; every day is a different theatre stage...
I couldn't really begin to tell you what The Inkwell Communiques is about. I'm afraid you'll have to visit the Upon These Boards website (www.upontheseboards.org), to get at that particular tip of the iceberg. While I played Winter Ignis and Baron Bueno Scampo from Portugallion, my favorite characters by far have to be (in no particular order): Hanuman the Monkey God, Ephemeral Maudine (the Soulful Secretary), Alfred/Woodrow Headturn, and Henry the Janitor.
My dear friends Jen, Greg and Matt are most graciously harboring this mystified/ecstatic/exhausted intercontinental fugitive. In this much needed respite between rehearsals, I find myself pecking away at my keyboard, busily working at letters and papers and so forth (it is remarkable how busy one can be when one finally has the chance to step away from work).
I am happily tangled in this world right now. I am happily listening to Light of Day; A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen. I mailed my ballot yesterday. More quite soon,
Perhaps it is the truly startling number of occasions on which I have lately boarded yet another plane. Perhaps it is the season. Perhaps I am simply growing more brittle around my edges. Whatever the reason, I am finding it harder and harder to sit quietly through another flight. The inexorably lengthening shadows of statistical probabilities clutch more and more tightly on my fraying nerves.
As in, "It is far more likely, this time around, that something unthinkable will happen."
It is not in my nature to be anxious, I tell myself. There are far more variables in play than I could possibly account for, in every single one of my waking days. Precautions are essentially pointless in a large enough bell curve.
But lately I think of the fragility of mechanics. I think of what an ethereal thing our concepts of air currents and "lift" are. How can we begin to reckon with forces so powerful as gravity, factors so feckless as velocity, when we can hardly manage choosing entrees from a menu? I think of how the number of moving parts, in any situation, bears a direct relationship with the number of points, in time and space, in which something can go quite wrong. And somehow, I am not particularly reassured by the composure of our airport worthies.
In this context, terrorism as such strikes me as almost banal.
And I am quite taken aback by this sentiment, as though I were desecrating something, as though this specific blend of violence could somehow possess a sacral character.
In this frame of mind, I find a seat, next to a pair of mildly obnoxious evangelical college students. I obsess about turbulence. I nap fitfully.
I dream about an island on the Pacific's coast, which doesn't to my knowledge exist. The island is roughly square in shape, and so small you can see across it, and on this island there is an inlet harboring a dark anchorage. A narrow strait separates the island from the mainland. In this dream, I live in a bleak sea-swept hut on a precarious mole stretching across the entrance to this harbor, which faces the open sea. The place is horrifying in its desolation. The island is drowning me.
I try to leave this island, either by sailing or swimming, it is unclear to me now which. But I end up only circling it, in spite of tremendous effort. The strait is terrifying; its shores are dizzying cliff-faces thick with crashing spray. And the ruined hut on the mole somehow terrifies me even more. I can see through the gaps in its collapsing driftwood walls; the roof is blown through. Scrub grows inside.
When I remember this dream now, sometimes I remember others with me. Sometimes I do not. Sometimes I remember sunlight in this dream. Sometimes I remember an empty sky, with neither clouds nor blue, nothing at all.
I wake up to my Wine-Dark-Sea-Deep Briefcase, and my reassuring books and papers and letters. I spend some time reviewing my Voter's Pamphlet, to the mild annoyance of my born-again seatmates. I brood in my airline seat, like a Norse mariner in his longship, thinking about omens.
That moment when the plane touches down, twinned with the moment when the plane first shuffles off the mundane coils of the world's surface, quite affects something serious in me.
Berkeley-Oakland-San Francisco is lovely. I'm in the thick of things, again. More soon, as ever.
I quit my job at the Library yesterday (www.multcolib.org). One could make the case that, on its face, this is perhaps not the smartest move on my part, given that my personal finances are on par with those of your average third-world polity. But I am going over to On-Call status, which allows me to pick and choose my work schedule, and as of this posting there are a surfeit of shifts available for the Library's On-Call workforce.
I quit my job in order to accomplish several things;
- I'm flying to Berkeley tommorrow, to do a project that is of the highest importance, artistically, politically and personally, and this will consume ten days. (www.upontheseboards.org)
- I intend to take the first of what will no doubt be a daunting battery of entrance exams and tests, in order to join the Portland Fire Bureau's Apprenticeship Program, on the 18th of November. This requires some time to prepare. (www.portlandonline.com/fire)
- The Portland-based theatre company with whom I am most primarily associated, Hand2Mouth Theatre (www.hand2mouththeatre.org), and under whose aegis I recently traveled to and from Poland (see below), shall be quite active in the coming months. This also requires time. A great deal of time. And energy.
There are, as usual, other trains running on these same tracks. The enumerated objectives above are the dominant beasts in a tumultuous menagerie of creatures straining at their leashes. To be honest, I am equally quite as daunted by all of this, as I am thoroughly excited and eager to stomp about all over the place.
The Romans made a distinction between Good Ambition and Excessive Ambition. The one was healthy and necessary for the livelihood of the person and the community, whereas the latter was destructive and pernicious and generally not so good. The word "ambition", incidentally, originally referred to how candidates for office had to walk around to solicit support, or, on a metaphorical level, how they needed to travel a great distance and exert great effort to achieve their goals. It has the same root as "ambulatory," which is an old term for a stroller, and "ambulance," which is perhaps not as innocuous a corralory as strollers are, for this topic.
I will not pretend to prescribe which form of Ambition I am currently engrossed with. I find it exhilerating to be on the cusp of either, and equally satisfied that I am not merely standing still in a stagnant place. I embrace impetus and momentum, and am possessed of at least enough self-confidence to trust in my abilities to sort things out as they unfold, and keep my ducks in a row, and stay one or two steps ahead of next month's rent. Angels and ministers of grace, defend us.
You will hear more from me as I touch down in Berkeley. Also, you will hear more backlogs from Poland, as they surface and insist on having their days relived. But I promise I will try not to preen so much as I have been, sorry about that. Context, context, context is everything...
And please, please remember to VOTE.
I just spent a week with my family in Canada. They celebrate their Thanksgiving on the 11th of October, those crazy Canadians.
These are the nights I live for: flying down I-5 in the middle of the night, with my sleeping Mom in the passenger seat, watching the glare of city lights growing on the dark, fir-lined horizons, sipping sweet coffee and waiting for tommorrow to change lanes and let me get past.
I'm worried about money, and my future, and all that grown-up crap. And of course I'm worried about the elections. If Bush wins, I'm either immigrating north or I'm joining the military, if only to thereby earn the right to attempt to join the political discourse and not be entirely marginalized (although Kerry's example is not exactly heartening).
It strikes me as a very Roman way of looking at our civics. I'm quite opposed to American operations in Iraq at the moment, but the way this country is wired, opposition means that I can't stand in the same room with any of the hawks. Unless I get a combat patch, like my cousin already has, and thereby prove that my principles are valid. But like I said, the examples of Kerry and Saxby Chambliss and even McCain show that such service is not a guarantee against the depredations of the polemicists, and the obloquy of the government itself. And by the way, why should I risk my life to have my principles validated by crusty, ignorant white people?
I do believe in living by one's principles, however. If I have to risk my life in the service of my country, even when I emphatically disagree with its government, then I can and will do this to voice my dissent with greater authority and assurance thereafter. It's not to have my principles validated, it's because I believe in a political community, in which citizenship means responsibility as well as liberty--in other words, that we are responsible for each other, that we cannot just contemptuously dismiss whatever the other side says out of hand, that even when I contest the very legitimacy of the current government, I still recognize and affirm its various constitutional powers (at least until 5 Supreme Court Justices say otherwise). I can't afford to pretend like the Republicans that make up 50% of this country don't exist.
And beyond this, I trust my own moral compass to discriminate between a moral and an immoral order, which, in light of Abu Ghraib, and two-hundred-odd years of Indian Wars and My Lai and Cuba and the Phillipines, I would not put past the current officers and commanders of the US Armed Forces to issue.
But implicit in this consideration is the premise that the satisfaction of having lived by such principles outweighs the physical danger, and, worse, the dangerous possibility of complicity in this government's enormities at home and abroad. The latter point is especially cutting: it makes no sense to register my protest against the Occupation of Iraq by marching into Samarra.
Still, neither is it doing any good mulling over all of this with no practical effect, in the middle of the night somewhere on the freeway to Portland. Lord, I hope Kerry wins.
He gave me a balloon. Arguably my proudest moment in Poland.
At this point a large, brooding Cadillac, dating back perhaps to the Ford administration, switches on its headlights and slowly rolls into the playing space.
I should mention that at this point in the performance--and indeed throughout the whole evening--a most excellent soundtrack of funk mixed with smooth something underscored the onstage events with perfect pitch. The excitement and the energy of the performance rolled around the slick parking lot with such intensity that people hardly noticed when it started to rain.
Three characters emerge from the Cadillac: a seductive woman in a clinging white dress, with matching pumps, boa and bonnet, accompanied by two tall men in black suits with matching ties and fedoras. Rumpled Mask then joins the three in ecstatically, cloyingly, lovingly polishing and marvelling at this battered black Cadillac, whose windows keep fogging up.
At some point Rumpled Mask melts into the audience, as the action moves from the Cadillac to the oil drums and the audience, while White Dress pulls out a briefcase stuffed with American bills. At which the Black Suits adopt menacing poses, and begin chucking plastic colored balls at the audience. Quite forcefully pelting people, or tossing them way overhead, or out into the streets (the taxi drivers cheerfully tossed them back). This lasts some time.
The music and the lights shift attention to the top of the Cadillac, where White Dress now stands with a container drawn from one of the oil drums. To the rousing chorus of the Wonder Woman theme, she expertly evokes all the kitschy excitement of a game show girl, pulling out number after number from the container. At this point you realize that the balls the Suits were pelting you with all have numbers, and many in the audience, bless their hearts, begin scrabbling in the puddles looking for the matching number.
The suits take a pair of powerful spotlights into the audience, combing around the plastic balls, forcefully and almost desperately looking for the number. But mostly they just mess with people, leading them on and pulling them around and shoving their way to the back and front again.
Finally someone raises their hand and steps out a little awkwardly onto the playing space, holding the matching number. He's carrying a stained paper shopping bag and his suit is badly rumpled, his expression set to varying degrees of bewilderment. The music and the Suits and the Dress all explode with enthusiasm. They do a victory lap where all four shake hands with everyone in the audience. The three dress up Rumples in Dress's white boa, champagne comes out of nowhere, and everyone takes turns taking pictures of each other in the familiar poses of achievement, with the Cadillac providing a fitting backdrop. Flowers come out of one of the oil drums. In all of the excitement, Rumples hardly notices that one of the Suits took the briefcase to free up his hands, and suddenly everyone's piling back into the Cadillac but the doors keep locking when Rumples tries to get in. He realizes he doesn't have his money. He realizes he doesn't even have his shopping bag.
He defiantly (if awkwardly) steps in the Cadillac's path, refusing to let them leave him. The Cadillac obligingly growls, and threatens him, and soon Rumples realizes the Cadillac is perfectly willing to hurt him. At which he backs away into us, and the Cadillac again rumbles and lurches, freaking out the audience and Rumples equally.
The Suits pile out and begin to beat Rumples, quite violently. White Dress steps out with boxing gloves, which the Suits take, roughly handing a pair to a dazed Rumples. Dress rings a bell, and the combatants break off and lean against the car or the oil drum, with their best Ali-vs.-Foreman expressions, doing the whole towel-and-spit thing. But it really is a one-sided fight, and the remaining Suit spends some time enjoying himself, playing with Rumples with classic Chaplin and Buster Keaton moves. Until suddenly Rumples finally does manage to land a knockout punch and a crotch kick before anyone realizes what's happening, and the other Suit has to pull Rumples off while White Dress grudgingly hands Rumples the money again.
Then something shifts, and White Dress starts clinging to Rumpled Guy, while the Suits nurse bloody noses and dagger looks. Somehow everyone manages to communicate to the audience that, to patch up this regrettable little misunderstanding, the characters have decided to all go boating together. The clamber up on top of the Cadillac, one suit on the hood, one on the trunk, both grimly doing gondolier duty. Dress and Rumples sit on the roof, popping open more champagne, Rumples growing more and more smitten, Dress vapid and coy. It's a pleasant day on the river. Here, honey, let me hold the briefcase for you. Hell, no. Ducks go paddling by. Look at the willows.
Soon Rumples gets it in his head that in order to impress the Dress, he should start rowing, too. But he's had a few too many swigs of champagne, and he almost falls off the boat, so the Suit, like any good servant, refuses to hand him an oar. Rolls his eyes. But Rumples persists. Suit is firm. Rumples is determined. So Suit hands over his oar, and joins Dress with the champagne.
Rumples starts rowing. But the other Suit at the back is still steering, which is an affront to any man's masculinity. After some effort, Rumples is rowing alone, with some difficulty, while the Suits are living it up with Dress and the champagne. It's still a pleasant day on the river. Ducks go paddling by. Look at the willows.
But Rumples doesn't really know how to row. And he's wrongfooted by the supercilious suits who now order him around, and Dress doesn't even notice him anymore. He doesn't notice, or he can't help it, when the Cadillac drifts into some choppy water. He tries to stop and ask for help, but the Suits backhand him and, whether out of folly or anguished resignation, Rumples goes into the drink.
When he surfaces again, the tableaux has changed dramatically. The briefcase is sitting on the hood, and one of the Suits pulls a gun out of it. The Suits then position themselves opposite one another, and Dress positions Rumples opposite her, so that all four are standing on the points of a compass, where the Cadillac is North and the audience is South.
The Suit at the audience takes aim at the Suit at the Cadillac. Dress smiles. Rumples doesn't get it. The tension, musically and physically, is unbearable. Suit shoots, and when nothing happens, both Suits are visibly relieved. Rumples flinches with the trigger, taking his awkward bewilderment to its most precarious height.
The Suits and Dress shuffle around, rotating in some inscrutable pattern. Rumples is to the right, Suit 1 is on the left, and a relieved Suit 2 is taking aim at Dress. Tension again, Rumples makes a move to block the shot but the other Suit holds him back. Pulls the trigger, nothing happens, shuffle again.
Dress has the gun. Rumples is the victim, the Suits on either side, holding Rumples in place. Rumples starts to plead, but before he can even say anything, Dress pulls the trigger and nothing happens. Shuffle again.
Now Rumples has the gun. A hapless Suit is the victim. And this time, predictably but startlingly, a shot rings out and the Suit is thrown back. Rumples is horrified. The others calmly and sadly take the body around to the trunk. The remaining Suit then hands Rumples the fallen Suit's fedora, and the briefcase with the gun. Dazed, Rumples is pushed into the front seat.
The Cadillac starts up, does a three-point-turn and trails out of the parking lot. The last image is of a leg dangling out of the lip of the trunk, with the vanity license plate lit up, which says "CADILLAC", of course.
This was the best piece of work I saw in Poland. Check out the link to see Teatr Usta Usta's website.
- Shard of Steel, stolen from the Gdansk Shipyards
- 2 Bottles of Sobieski Vodka
- 6 bars of chocolate
- My Gerber, aka the Tool which Unlocks the Possibilities of the Universe
- Collection of old movable type letters
- Book, "Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition", which could conceivably be seen as pornography by barbarian tribes like the Visigoths, the Alemanni and the Neocons.
- Antique brass lighter with a secret compartment, which could conceivably be seen as a Weapon of Mass Destruction by desperate, election-season Federal officers.
- Cycling tire patch kit
- Small dram of Polish honeyed mead
- Cache of foreign postcards
- My dignity
- Museum ticket stubs and paraphernalia
- papryka potato chips
- nice German tie for my father
- handmade Polish icon for my mother
- Swiss pocket watch
I run through the checklist of Items I Do Not Want the US Fatherland Security Chuckleheads to Confiscate. Satisfied at my unwieldy arrangements, and with one last lingering look at the Backies room filled with sleeping twenty-somethings, I descend to the reception floor.
The lovely young German woman at the desk hands me a cup of coffee, and I am surprised to discover that I have a few moments of leisure with which to enjoy this. A cab is then called for, and in moments I am darting about Berlin towards Tegel airport, the window a blur of lush greens, scrolled ironwork, polished steel skies, parked Volkswagens shining in the mist, windswept Berliners, and the traffic signs that are the same but different, still startling me at their sameness/differences. The Germans build extraordinary electronic billboards at the entrance to the airport, setting out flight information and gate numbers most conveniently. I reach Tegel with all kinds of time to spare.
This, of course, is when the chaos hits. Flights are delayed. Hours are lost at Customs and Immigration. The Big Blue Monster that is my sturdy military duffel bag, suffers an invasion by polite German uniforms inquisitive of the shard of rusting Gdansk Solidarnosc steel I stole for my cousin. I run through Frankfurt International to make my flight home to Portland, which began boarding five minutes before my plane landed. Somehow I manage to buy six bars of German chocolate before breathlessly boarding Lufthansa Flight 468.
I would have thought that some sadness would settle, upon leaving Berlin and Poland and Europe behind me, but I am too exhausted to be melancholy. In these moments, I am adrift in an archipelago of strangeness, and utterly empty of substance. Impressions wash over me, and details pierce my surface, leaving stains and scars I notice only much, much later, in the middle of the night or while brushing my teeth or in walking down a familiar Portland street that suddenly no longer feels familiar anymore. In these moments, exhaustion becomes me.
There is so much, and so little with which to say anything of substance. In Canada at the moment, visiting relations and mulling over a Berkeley prospect.
We then split up to do some last minute shopping again, and some of us walked to the Basilica of St. Francis, with its beautiful Art Nouveau interior and its famous stained glass windowof God creating the Waters, with the verse title, 'Let it Be.' I was also surprised to see the Shroud of Turin there. I don't imagine that happens everyday. Walking along, checking out a lovely church, when suddenly the shroud Christ was supposedly wrapped up in pops up at your elbow. But see, that's the sort of thing that happens in countries which don't rely on aWal-Mart mentality for cultural sustenance.
The whole interior and the renovated windows were designed and executed by Stanislaw Wyspianksi, now one of my most favorite artists of all time--he paints, he sculpts, he directs, he designs sets and interiors and whole buildings, he draws searing self portraits and powerful theatre posters, he stood on the cusp of ArtNouveau and Art Deco, singlehandedly resurrecting stained glass in the religious mode and introducing it to its secular mode (his Apollo Window done for theKrakow Medical Society is stunning), and then he suddenly dies from syphilis. I visited the Polish National Museum dedicated to his works, housed in his former home, and I had what was arguably the most spiritually satisfying experience of my whole trip. Drop whatever you're doing today and go to Powell's or the Library to find some of his stuff. Do it now. You can play with your Cabbage Patch Dolls later.
That evening was perhaps our worst performance of the tour. Time is our ravenously relentless enemy here, and the technical runs necessary prior to performing in new venues continually sap almost as much energy as a full performance, leaving us doubly and cumulatively more and more exhausted with each passing day. Thus the mundane frustrations of technical and physical obstacles, which in a normal theatre setting are only of a routine nature, in a touring setting present a constantly challenging pressure which saps precious energy and creative gumption. After a certain period of time, you don't know how to bloody fix the fire sequence anymore. You can't figure out where you're supposed to be, on the 5th different staging in as many days and as many cities. You can't remember where you packed your set tools, or your props, or your costumes, because you've just spent the last hour missing warmups while messing around with the stupid fire things and now the audience is waiting and you're not even in costume yet. These are the reasons why Providence saw fit to ordain Stage Managers in aid of our humble, imperfect works. Without Stage Managers, I tend to lose stuff and get new scars on my person, which is exactly what happened in Krakow. And I'm not even getting into the language-cultural issues, which are plenty indeed.
But all that said, the Krakow performance had a lot going for it. I didn't get another nosebleed during the bear death, the way I did back in Szamocin and Gdansk. (In retrospect, I think the gauze over my face obstructed my breathing, leading to the nosebleeds.) We got some kickass publicity posters that look so cool, I stole some. Many people liked it, and hell, how often do you get to say 'I played abear, a stone spirit, a demon and Elijah the Prophet in a thousand-year-old city'?
Our next two performances were personally the most gratifying for me, and our closing night in particular was quite stunning for us all, in so many ways. This is my last night in Berlin, and in Europe, soI must beg your pardon and finish these serial posts as I return to Stumptown, which I so miss. My best to everyone, look for more soon, keep on keeping on--
ich bein ein jelly donut,
We arrive at the theatre relatively quickly. Have dinner at Teatr Cogitatur's cafe, whose menu entrees Iherein copy verbatim, after translating:
- --Philosophical Crumbs Russian Style
- --Fight Between Lent and Carnival
- --Roy's Fish
- --Fillet Calvin
- --Handbook of Eustachius
- --Nuts and Bolts of Aunt Rudigar
- --Sweet Gretchen
- --Apocryphal Hot Soup
After sampling one or two of these (they weren't quite so great as their titles imply), we embark on an excruciating midnight two-hour odyssey in search of our arranged lodgings. By the very end, we were a sorry sight; five Poles and five Americans in a long, straggling line of baggage, strung out over a block, behind which our van with its trailer, strapped with props and equipment, crawls along, Pan Mihow improbably passive at the wheel. So frightening-frustrating was it to ride in the van at 1:00 in the morning, that walking to our hotel was preferred to spending another moment in thatgod forsaken van, whose last appearance was in the ninth circle of Dante's Inferno, as a vehicle for the just punishment of traitors and philanderers.
After arriving at our Communist-era hotel, which is now some kind of international student-union/inn/physical ed. institution (?), somehow I manage to have a long conversation with one of my Polish castmates about the cultural contrasts of Polish andAmerican theatre, and our differing definitions ofthat oily term, `professional`, and the crucial role which my experience of racism plays in my personal avocation for theatre, something endlessly strange and fascinating to my Polish colleague.
Next day I split off from the main group, overfull with residual trauma from the previous night's adventures. Also, I had hoped to visit Auschwitz during my time in Poland, and it was abruptly made clear to me that this day would ostensibly be my only opportunity. Unfortunately, the last train to Oswiecim (the Polish name) left before I could make it, and I spent the day writing my last mass-post and soaking up the Silesian Museum in Katowice, which was one of the most satisfying museum experiences I've ever had.
It's not so big. And it only covers Polish art from the 19th century up to 1939. But Polish painting is very, very compelling; they've managed to take the light from Old Dutch Masters and weave striking forms and bristling colors into everything. You see echoes of expressionism and romanticism along with the steady progression of things, but each is a vibrant interpretation of those prevailing norms--in general, the dramatic tension is much more heightened, the sense of purpose and momentousness is starkly delineated, the colors are explosively passionate. Winged hussars, babies sleeping, Grand Dukes and Archduchesses, still lifes and grandmothers with violets--the quotidian in European art somehow endowed with a special, potent something that is irrepressibly Polish.
Our performance in Katowice was cramped by lack of space and tech time. But the audience was startlingly enthusiastic, and crowded. More on this later. The next day I actually do manage to split off and visit Auschwitz, which was horrifying, and which every human being owes it to their common sense of humanity to see. I happened to visit on the same occasion as a detachment of Israeli Defense Force officers, and the cultural myopia as a result was altogether too much for me. There is something traumatically disturbing about seeing modern military uniforms, of any nationality, in Auschwitz. And I am much saddened that we still have no other recourse with which to deter violence than the kind of militarism which the IDF embodies. And we all know how effective said deterrence is, these days.
Every scrap of evidence is annotated with some statement countersigned by some authority verifying its authenticity, or the residue of some horrifying chemical, or the affidavits of several verified witnesses. The cellars are rank with stale air. Row upon row of brick blockhouses. Papers, labels, badges yellowing under glass. Long walls lined with mugshots of Jews. There is a room packed with human hair.
That afternoon I rejoin my castmates in Krakow, much shaken and sorely tried. That evening was probably our worst performance the entire tour, due to mounting exhaustion, continuing language difficulties and the relentless pace. I will write more on Krakow my next posting; I now write from Berlin, where I shall be for the next two days before finally returning home. Missing al lthings familiar,